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Marijuana dispensary offers to help New West council

A society that dispenses marijuana and information in Vancouver is offering its expertise to New Westminster.
Medical Marijuana - Feds vs. City
New Westminster is among the thousands of organizations and individuals who provided the province with feedback about the legalization and regulation of non-medical cannabis.

A society that dispenses marijuana and information in Vancouver is offering its expertise to New Westminster.

Adolfo Gonzalez, speaking on behalf of the Eden Medicinal Society, said the research-based society has something to offer to the City of New Westminster. The society was the first organization in Canada to pass the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries’ (CAMCD) accreditation program and to get industry certification.

“It’s an organization that tries to regulate dispensaries before things get out of hand,” Gonzalez told council Monday night. “It does it with the help of academic support from UBC.”

With locations in Vancouver and Victoria, and plans underway for shops in Toronto, the organization is hoping to establish a rapport with New Westminster. It’s found a location in C-1 zoning that’s far away from schools and community centres that it believes would be suitable for a shop.

“This is just to get a conversation started,” Gonzalez said. “We are not here to tell you we are opening. We are here to tell you we think this is a place we think would be well-suited. We wouldn’t open without your positive input and without your go-ahead. We would never consider doing that.”

The City of Vancouver, which became the first city in Canada to regulate and license medicinal marijuana retailers in June 2015, recently moved to shut down more than 150 pot stores because they didn’t meet new licencing criteria, such as proximity to schools and community centres. Eden Medicinal Society closed several of its locations, but two of its shops were allowed to remain open.

The federal government has indicated it will introduce legislation in the spring of 2017 to legalize marijuana.

“It’s timely for us to be having this conversation as a council,” said Coun. Patrick Johnstone. “It’s pretty clear the federal government is going to be making some changes in the next couple of years about how cannabis is going to be managed. It’s going to be a new challenge for local governments, including ours, for how this entire business model fits into ours, our bylaws.”

Johnstone said a “Wild West” attitude has been created in areas where there weren’t established protocols for dealing with marijuana, which has led to fear among the public and city councils about dispensaries.

“We can get ready as a city for when the regulations pass, but the chances of us doing anything before that will probably be slim to none,” said Coun. Bill Harper.

Council referred the matter to staff.

In 2012, the West Coast Green Light advocacy organization opened the New Innovations In Cannabis Education (NICE) medical dispensary as an information centre on 12th Street. Following a year-long investigation, the New Westminster Police Department raided the centre.
Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said police came back with an interpretation from legal counsel that the business was breaching the Criminal Code. He understands that Vancouver had to start regulating dispensaries, because they were “opening willy nilly everywhere” and that city needed a bylaw to indicate where the shops could stay open.

“I don’t see anything has changed in New Westminster to have me want to go forward with establishing it. I do hear the overtures from the new federal government, and I’m assuming that we may eventually go the way of Colorado and Washington State,” he said. “I personally don’t have an appetite to revisit the legal opinion we received from our police. I’m quite happy with the fact that we don’t have an established facility in New Westminster that would have many others latch onto that precedent and establish more.”

Gonzalez said the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled patients must have reasonable access to marijuana for medical purposes. He said some cities are acknowledging what the Supreme Court has said and are trying to find appropriate ways to fill in the gaps in the system.

According to Gonzalez, the Eden Medicinal Society, with support from UBC, has attempted to create standards about issues such as supply, operations and product quality, where none currently exist. He said the city is welcome to “plug into” the work it’s done on the issue.

“Maybe it’s not the right time for New West, but at least you guys know what the organizations are doing and you know that resource is there for you to utilize anytime you consider it’s appropriate to be at your disposal,” he said.

With changes coming at the federal level, Coun. Mary Trentadue believes it’s incumbent on council to have a conversation about marijuana dispensaries.

“I think it’s going to come to the city, probably sooner than later. I want to make sure whatever we decide, we have all the information. I think the fear is the Wild West, as it was stated, did occur in Vancouver and it’s put a lot of municipalities off. It makes me nervous that anyone can go out there and open up a dispensary and create havoc in a neighbourhood,” she said. “I think it’s an important conversation that we need to be having.”